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Hip Hop Production
and Mixing Tips

Tools of the Trade: Sequencers and Rewire Devices

--page 2

Hip Hop series page 1   2   3

Production vs. Post-Production

The Production phase of a studio project is where the musicians are in the studio making tracks.  That is, it is when music is being produced, created, and put in mix form.  The Post-Production phase starts after the tracks are done and usually after the musicians are finished.  During post production the final mix and possibly remixes are made.  Post-production also includes mastering for the intended formats of distribution (web, CD, broadcast).  These definitions are not rigid but a loose way of talking about where a project is at.  "Project X is now in production at studio Z".  "In post-pro they did some killer edits that changed the project".  These terms refer to professional environments where different people in different studios are doing different tasks.  

Any sequencer that combines MIDI and audio will work well for hip hop.  That includes: Sonar, Cubase, Logic, Pro-Tools (and variants), Digital Performer, Acid, Ableton live, Tracktion.  And there are more.  FL Studio is a simple way to work and very easy on the budget.  Naturally, the higher end applications have more features and offer more control.  There is really not a sequencer that is best for hip hop.  However, there is one that is best for you, your projects and your ability to learn. 

You might hear to use Reason for Hip Hop.  Be careful here.  While Reason is excellent for beat making, it cant do total HH production as it can't record audio.  You can make the beat in Reason and pipe it into your main sequencer with Rewire.  Another rewire drum loop editor/step sequencer is FXPansion's Guru, which can dissect an audio loop and add processing to different slices. 

You can do hip hop on a multi track recorder.  Many of these today let you import audio loops and midifiles from your computer, and may even have an onboard synth.

Finally, you can do hip hop on a pad sampler like the MPC1000 series, or the Roland MV8800.  You can also do it with a keyboard workstation, like the Motif or Fantom.  All of these have sequencers onboard, and offer sampling. (You can record vocals as a sample).  The MV8800 and Fantom G offer audio recording, the coming MPC5000 will have it too.

As you see there are many, many ways to record hip hop music.  Perhaps I am biased, but I believe Logic on the Mac is the best.  It does it all. 


Basic Production Tips


1. Use mixer groups.  

If your sequencer allows, create a separate group bus for both the Beat and the Vocals.  All the instrumental tracks should feed into the Beat Group.  All the Vocal tracks should feed into the Vocal Group.  Doing this allows for a more accurate setting of the important balance between the vocal and the beat.  In HH, the vocal must always stay clearly on top of the beat, unlike rock, where it often blends into the mix.

2. Track Isolation 

If you isolate elements on their own track, things will sound better and allow you a more creative range of effects,  For example, if all the drums are on one track, if you add an effect, all the drums will sound out the effect, often leaving you with junk.  But if you put all the snares on one track you can apply a more lavish effect, tailored just to the snare.  A slap back echo might sound good on a snare track but on the whole kit, its going to be too busy.

Apple Logic Studio Music Production Software (Macintosh)
Introducing Logic Studio, Apple's comprehensive suite of professional tools .

Steinberg Cubase 5 Recording Software (Macintosh and Windows)
Cubase 5 - Absolute cutting edge in digital audio workstations! Featuring fully integrated tools for working with loops, beats and vocals, such as LoopMash and VariAudio, Cubase 5 combines new composition features and the first VST3 convolution reverb to take musical creativity to new heights. Cubase 5 is an advanced music production system With stunning innovations and additional enhancements that boost productivity and performance.

M-Audio Pro Tools M-Powered Recording Software
Digidesign Pro Tools M-Powered software is an exciting new version of the award-winning Pro Tools software designed to work with select M-Audio hardware peripherals. An ideal way to professionally record, edit, and mix music, Pro Tools M-Powered software includes many of the same features that top studios rely on to produce Grammy award-winning

Cakewalk SONAR Producer Recording Software (Windows)
Sonar 8.5 Producer gives you what you need for recording, composing, editing, mixing, and mastering. Get innovations that matter, from exclusive features to ignite creativity and perfect your tracks, to groundbreaking technologies that always keep you in control, all backed by the industry's leading 64-bit audio quality. And Sonar 8.5 Producer delivers the go to production tools you want with the best collection of virtual instruments, mixing, and mastering effects found in any DAW.


Peace Love Productions Hip Hop: Samples Beats and Loops
PLP have compiled five separate download packs to build this collection for you. You'll find all of the latest and greatest Hip Hop loops and samples right here. Sounds like Dirty South, Southern Gangsta Beats, 50 Cent, Three 6 Mafia and on the lighter side, Missy Elliot, Tribe Called Quest, and Common. It's all there but it's up to you to put the pieces back together.


Cakewalk Software XMiX 1 Xtreme Dance and Hip Hop Acid Loops
X-Mix is known the world over as the leading producer of major-label club remixes. Now you can get the same samples they used to remix some of the most popular tracks ever available to dance clubs, with artists like Puff Daddy, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Tori Amos, New Order and others.

3. Tempo Considerations 

Hip Hop music is typically done at slow tempos.  Of course there is often variation, but a good tempo as one begins to build tracks is around 80-90.  Set the tempo according to your mood. One advantage to using MIDI samplers is that tempo is infinitely adjustable until you add the vocals.  You could write the drum patterns at 50 BPM which is slow enough that anyone's hands can make beats of great intricacy.  Once done, speed it up to the project tempo.

4. Groove considerations 

Unless the elements of your song fit into a sonically pleasing groove, your stuff is not going to "hit" properly.  Masters of hip hop beats are masters of groove, and can lay down a drum pattern with no correction.  Most of us have not perfected this skill, so we use quantize templates to achieve the right amount of groove and apply it to our tracks.  You might note that your sequencer already has built in grooves that can be applied to any midi track.  Grooves that work well with hip hop are based on 16th notes with a swing value in the range of 57-83%.  50% is straight 16th notes.  100% pushes the 16th note to the next 8th note.  0% pushes the 16th note the the previous 8th note.  As you pass 57% you will hear the groove start to relax and as you reach around 70% you are in classic hip hop/rap territory.

Another method of getting a hip hop groove:  Quantize the kick drums on a 24th note quantize divisor and the rest on 4th, 8th and 16th notes.  Why 24ths? There are 6 values between quarter notes on a 24th note grid. They all groove in a nice way when offset against claps on 2 and 4.  Try to avoid putting a kick on 2 or 4.

Try this groovy tip. 

  1. Start a drum pattern with claps on 2 and 4 and a kick at 1 and 3.  That is standard 4/4. 
  2. Now, set the grid to 24 and add 1 more kick on the grid, anywhere! 
  3. Press play and listen.  Move it till you like what you hear. 
  4. Then add a 4th kick and move that around.  In the process you will hear many different hip hop groove possibilities. 
  5. 5. Move to Microscopic editing (next)


5. Microscopic editing.  

a. MIDI.  Your sequencer has an offset parameter.  This moves all the notes you highlight by midi ticks, the smallest possible note division the sequencer is capable of.  If you tried the above tip, now grab all the kick drums except the ones on 1 and 3 and offset them by a few ticks in either direction.  Listen carefully for a head nodding groove.  Copy the drum sequencer to a groove template (read the manual).  Apply it to the bass.   Mind over groove.  You are there.

b.  Audio  If you put a common audio loop on an audio track in the sequencer and slice it into parts, you can apply destructive editing to each part in an audio editor.  You can move these "regions" around, delete some, stutter others, and if the sequencer allows, re-groove the hits and save to a new audio file.  For those who are into making esoteric beats, you can borrow elements from one audio loop and precisely place it in another with simple copy and paste commands.

Tools of the trade: Mixing and Processing

Mixing "in the box" is my preferred method for Hip Hop, due mainly to the extensive processing that has to happen, particularly if you make sounds from scratch.  Waves makes a comprehensive bundle of plugins that can enhance any audio production, with excellent quality compressors and limiters, as well as EQ, reverb and delay.  For those that take their processors seriously, its a great way to go.  The UAD-1 collection is also fantastic.  The Fairchild compressor is one particularly suitable (its a vintage model of a compressor that was often used when making recordings for vinyl. )  I also think the Pultec EQ helps vocals shine better than all the other EQs I have used (I have not used them all though). 

go to page 3

Hip Hop series page 1   2   3


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